Julie Elliott: The state of the courts in Sunderland is at crisis point

Sunderland Magistrates' Court.
Sunderland Magistrates' Court.

The state of the courts in Sunderland and the service the Ministry of Justice is providing to the people of this city is reaching crisis point.

I recently met with Dominic Raab, the Minister of State for Justice, along with my colleague Bridget Phillipson, MP, to discuss the situation surrounding the courts in Sunderland.

Minister Raab is the fifth Minister we have met with since 2010 to try to get a solution to this ongoing issue.

The Minister wrote to us last week and admitted that the condition of the existing court building is “below what would be expected”, and yet all he is proposing is to refurbish some of the ground floor to improve accessibility in the short term.

Some works will have to be done in order for the Magistrates’ Court to accommodate the Tribunals Service moving into the building in April next year.

However this can only be a very short term fix to a long-standing problem.

It’s not right that the people have to put up with a building that is more than 100-years-old, has very poor accessibility and is constructed in a way that means plaintiffs have to walk past defendants on the way into the court room.

A long-term decision needs to be taken urgently so that the work may begin on an overdue new courts building.

Yesterday my colleague Bridget Phillipson stood up in the House of Commons and asked Minister Raab if he would visit the courts in Sunderland to see for himself how not fit for purpose the building is – he did not answer.

I have today asked the Minister myself, through a written Parliamentary Question, the same thing – will he visit the Sunderland Court to see how poor a service the Ministry of Justice is providing to people in Sunderland.

Our patience is running out on this issue – we need a decision on long-term action now.